In my previous article, I mentioned COM-B. This is a behavioural change model focusing on the Capabilities, Opportunities and Motivations of an individual. The model argues that if all three of these are in place, so we are capable and motivated to change and the opportunity to do so arises, we will change (or at least most likely to do so).
However, my previous articles, focusing on behavioural change (reduced meat and plastic consumption), were rather unpopular. It seems as if people do not care. So, although the entire article focusses on how people can contribute (capability), what programs can help you and how exactly to do it (opportunity), there was no care (motivation). So, change is about caring. So, how do you make someone care? And how do you make them care enough to change? Let’s apply COM-B all the way!
Capability The C in COM-B stands for capability, and often, this factor is the starting point of behavioural change. Why? If you are unable to change, as in, physically or mentally incapable to do so, you will not change. Because you literally can’t. Obstructions to change can be quite definite. They can be a lack of physical or mental ability. You wouldn’t ask someone in a wheelchair to climb the stairs because it’s healthier. The nudging campaign “take the stairs, be active!” are rather wasted on this demographic… Even then, there are people without limbs who get prosthetics and still compete in the Paralympics and run marathons. That is not most of us, but definitely a great inspiration to keep in mind and applaud.
For people who do care a lot, yet still remain incapable of change, this can become a great frustration or even obsession in their lives. However, capability can be quite loosely defined, and doesn’t need to present itself as a binary variable. When it comes to ability, life is not about all or nothing. Sure, you might not have ALL the ability in the world to do something, but you might be capable of some small(er) things. For example: a lot of people feel they are unable to save money due to low incomes or high living costs. However, saving money is much more about the act, than it is about the amount. Even if you can only move $1 into your savings account at the end of the month, or put all the small change you have left at the end of the day or week into a saving jar, you are saving and you have laid the foundation for behavioural change. Sometimes you can’t contribute an ocean, but you can contribute a few drops. And what is an ocean but a giant collection of drops?
Opportunity Whether you find yourself capable, incapable, or somewhere in between, if the opportunity for displaying this newly changed behaviour never arises, it won’t occur. For example, if I have decided to give money to charitable causes as soon as asked, but no one ever approaches me about donating to charity, I will not donate. My behaviour has not changed, as the opportunity did not occur. And I know there are plenty of charities that get promoted on Facebook (especially for people’s birthdays --- interesting recent trend that), it is innate to human beings that we don’t seek out these opportunities, they have to come to us. In my previous article I have also given an example for reducing plastic consumption. Where is the opportunity to do so? Even if you actively want to reduce your plastic use, everything around you in a supermarket is wrapped in plastic, and there is no opportunity to not buy plastic. You cannot reduce your own plastic consumption that easily. You’d have to change your entire approach to food shopping and consumption. It’d be a total overhaul.
When applying other behavioural change frameworks such as EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely), you’ll see that 50% of the model focusses on whether it is easy and attractive to switch your entire food consumption around to reduce your plastic usage. And to be quite frank with you, I wouldn’t. Because it would be one hell of a hassle. And I don’t have the time for it, nor the energy. And there is your problem. We will change our behaviour when the opportunity arises, but we will rarely go as far as to create the opportunity ourselves. So, the opportunity nearly needs to be presented to us on a silver platter. Alright then.
Motivation The last factor in COM-B is a fickle mistress. Even with C&O in place, we might still not be motivated enough to give a shit. This can be because of a variety of reasons, time, energy and money being the prime suspects.
If we are tired, low on money and energy, and (as my generation seems) constantly out of time, we don’t even belief that we contribute anything useful as individuals. So why should we change? What is this behaviour going to impact? What does it matter if I do it or not? Campaigns that tell you that “if everyone does this, we will make ….. change,” don’t work for that exact reason. I need to know what happens as a direct result of my choice. I need to know what my donation of $10 is going to do. I need to know what my not-eating this burger is going to do for the cow in the field next to my house. Give me something tangible. Give me a direct effect of my decisions, positive or negative. The quickest learning method is negative reinforcement (also known as punishment).
Even if direct feedback loops are in place, sometimes it’s just too much. It is possible that we are just tired of constantly being told that we are failing. It is demotivating to be told you are alright at recycling, but because you still eat meat, or dairy, or some vegetable oil that turned out to be unethically sourced, or don’t use period cups etc. you are terrible person anyway. That sucks. It is difficult to motivate someone. It is difficult to make people care. We are constantly overloaded already. This is something that has become more and more apparent. And as it does cost time, energy, mental capacity and often money, anything demotivating will throw us off. So maybe we should be nicer to the people who are already trying. Negative reinforcement for bad decisions, positive reinforcement for the decision to at least try and give a damn!
Change The irony of care, interchangeably used throughout this article as motivation, is that it can work two ways. Some people are just so emotionally connected to saving money, reducing waste, recycling, charitable behaviours etc. that they will in fact seek out opportunities to do so, and will work around their own (in)capabilities. These people do not come from a mindset of indifference, they come from a mindset of deep emotional care. This article, however is about people who are either indifferent, or think they are indifferent because they believe that they are incapable of changing. We can make people care, but we have to show them first that they are in fact capable of the change we want to see in them, whether that is small or big change. We need to provide them with a step-by-step plan for what they can do, and applaud any type of engagement with this change. If there are 10 steps to this specific behavioural change, do not only praise those who make it to step 10, and punish the rest. People do not care for things that make them feel awful despite them actually trying. Each level of care and behavioural change should be met with positive feedback and the opportunity to change even more, at whatever speed the individual wishes to do so.
Small changes when correctly reacted to, can lead to much bigger changes. Caring comes from believing that you can do something and you are supported in doing so. What is one thing you deeply care about, and why?